The Five Sentence Email

emailWhen you send email, you most definitely want it to be read! With everyone’s inboxes bulging at the seams with unwanted come-ons you face an awful lot of competition in your recipient’s inbox for their attention. Getting read is no small feat,  getting your reader to take action even a greater accomplishment. Lets face it – E-mail that takes too long to respond to results in continuous inbox overflow for those who receive a lot of it.

Good writers know that lean, vibrant language is almost always preferable to verbose, rambling writing. There is virtually no writing in the world so good that it can’t be made better by making it shorter. There are exceptions, of course – a contract needs to cover every possible potentiality, as does the text of an international treaty, but these documents are not really meant to be read, they’re meant to be enacted.  

Writing concisely offers benefits on its own – the short email, particularly the email whose contents fit into the preview pane without any scrolling, has a much higher chance of gaining a reader’s attention than one that starts off with three pages about trivia.

This is what Mike Davidson (five.sentenc.es) figured out – if his recipients were half as slammed as he was, he figured they could use some relief from long-winded emails that ramble on and on in the guise of pleasantries. Instead, he committed himself to writing emails that were five sentences or less, every single time.

That’s all well and good, of course, but how can you make sure you say what you need to say if you limit yourself to five sentences?  You don’t want to leave anything out, right? Fortunately, super-entrepreneur Guy Kawasaki offered this advice - “whether UR young or old, the point is that the optimal length of an email message is five sentences. All you should do is explain who you are, what you want, why you should get it, and when you need it by.

A good outline for a five-sentence email might look something like this:

  1. Who are you?  – This might be skipped if you already have a relationship with the recipient; otherwise, in as little space as possible, explain the relevant facts about yourself.
  2. What do you want? – Explain why you’re writing the email, what you expect your recipient to do about it, and any relevant information they need to respond with the appropriate action.
  3. Why should you get it? -  Why should they bother? Explain why your request is important, and if relevant, what’s in it for them.
  4. When do you need them to act? Open-ended requests get responded to whenever the recipient gets around to it. Be as specific as possible, so that your recipient a) has a sense of urgency, b) feels that their response is important to you, and c) feels inspired to act.

If more information is needed, a formal report, a webpage, or some other document is probably going to be better-suited rather than presenting it than an email. Send an attachment, send a link, or schedule a face-to-face meeting if necessary; don’t blast off a giant email that takes you hours to write in the vain hope that it will be read. It probably won’t!

This material was summarized from Mastering the Short Email by Dustin Wax.

 - Steve (www.SPMsolutions.NET)

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